March 6th, 2014
Industry’s success mantra encompasses continual growth. For them it’s; grow sales, generate greater profits. Many people also use this mantra to define their existence. They aim to grow the greatest wealth and to amass the most material possible. Growth seems so rewarding that its mere mention engenders a positive image.
However, like anything else, there can be too much of a good thing. The obvious consideration for people is the finite extent of the resources on Earth. With now over 7 billion people striving for growth, we can question the ability for all to successfully achieve it. Consider how growth and indeed any activity require energy. All we need do is look at the rapid increase in energy consumption over the last two millennium to be aware. Now consider the future as BP predicted in their recent outlook. According to it, we can expect in 20 years a global energy consumption well over double that of today or about 7.35e20 Joules/a. And of course this growth requires the corresponding increase in supply which may not be such a good or even an achievable thing.
Consider the negative side of resource extraction; the spills, the tailings, the combustion exhaust. Now consider the doubling of the quantity of all these concerns. And, consider the ability of the Earth to even provide a doubling of supply for the energy resources. Should we continually hold on to a growth mantra? Can we accept this mantra when looking at the finite extent of Earth and the negative impacts?
February 17th, 2014
The Earth’s natural water cycle includes snow falling as well as rain. In the northern hemisphere in winter months and sometimes longer, we see regular and sometimes excessive snow fall. But eventually the Sun melts it all away in the spring time.
Just how much energy must the Sun deposit to melt this snow. Let’s make the following assumptions. First let’s choose an area, say Canada which consists of 998,467,000 hectares. Then assume an annual mean total snowfall of 200cm. Last assume that the density of snow is about a tenth the density of water. From this, about 2.0E15 kg of snow accumulates every winter.
Eventually, as the Earth points its northern hemisphere toward the Sun, springtime heat melts all the snow. Given the latent heat of fusion of ice of 334 kJ/kg, then the Sun must provide 6.7E20 Joules to do this. Compare this value to humanity’s annual consumption of primary fuels at 4.0E20 J. This dramatically shows how human activity approaches global scales. But can the Earth deal with this?
January 11th, 2014
A long time ago, people began working in groups. When the groups exceeded subsistent levels of food production then some members of the group could specialize in non-food production activities. These specialists went on to develop writing, mathematics and music amongst many other advances.
While the idea of a food surplus sounds not only reasonable but also necessary, people have taken this idea to the extreme. Groups of people expanded to villages then grew into cities which now have become conurbations. Such human contrived living conditions can now encompass over 82 million people. That is, these 82 million people rely upon the surplus of food production from far away regions so that they can continue to pursue their specialties.
In a certain way these conurbations act like an inter-stellar black hole. The conurbations consume vast amounts of resources; food, energy and material, while very little comes out from its ‘event horizon’. Should we question the wisdom of increasing the number of and expanding the size of conurbations? If a conurbation relies upon external resources, as presumably does a black hole, then what happens when the supply of resources fails?
December 13th, 2013
Our thirst for energy leads us to new and more innovative extraction means. Liquefying natural gas allows us to store and transport this energy source in an economical manner. Previously, a processing plant on land near a source of natural gas would process the gas then send it on to consumers as a liquid. But, there’s a lot more ocean than land on Earth’s surface so not surprisingly resource extraction has moved off shore.
The $12B Prelude Floating Liquefied Natural Gas facility is a floating giant at 600 000 tonnes fully loaded. This facility will be moored above a gas field. It will extract the gas, chill it to the optimum -162°C and then off-load the liquefied natural gas into LNG carriers. The carriers deliver the LNG to special ports that provide the natural gas through pipelines and on to consumers. The Prelude FLNG aims for at least 3.6 million tonnes per annum of LNG. That’s 1.7e17Joules of energy every year which the owner claims is just more than the energy requirements of Hong Kong for the same one year. Yes, this ship is a giant but it can only supply energy for one city and only for its lifetime of 25 years.
The Prelude FLNG provides another drop in the bucket of humanity’s energy needs of over 48002e17Joules each year. All these drops keep us going as long as the drops continue to fall. Is our thirst for evermore energy leading us to a state of bliss? Or, are we building our expectations every higher while our support is evaporating?
Photo – Shell
November 11th, 2013
The times they are a changin’ sang Bob Dylan. As an example, the seasons show us short term changes. While the Earth’s axes points one of its poles toward or away from the Sun then the net energy deposited by the Sun on the Earth increases or decreases. In a surprisingly small angular variation, the climate on the Earth swings from the severely unpleasant heat of summer or the death defying cold of winter. Yet, farmers and city dwellers have learned to live with these changes.
One of the strongest tools supporting our adaptation to change is capitalism. This economic style enables producers to gauge the needs of the populace and to respond accordingly. If warm coats are needed in winter then enough are made. If schools need books with which to teach then books are printed. As vouchsafed by any MBA student, the only prerequisite to a product is demand. As long as we have consumers who consume then capitalism will lead us to a better future.
However, the changes brought on by capitalism aren’t wholly fruitful. Most products are derived from resources on the Earth. Most products require energy to design, fabricate and transport. The supply of resources on Earth is obviously finite. As a corollary, the Human Footprint grows greater every year. The long term change seems obvious; people will have to survive with fewer resources. Are we ready for those changing times?